When I was a kid I would tell all my friends about the cool stuff we did at my church on Wednesday nights. All the boys gathered together for what we called "Boy's Brigade." It was a psuedo military themed Christian program for boys that involved order, instruction, and fun and games. To most of the kids I hung out with, this was a foreign idea. For them (those who were Catholics and Lutherans), Wednesday nights meant some kind of confirmation or catechism class. I had no idea what a catechism was, and I probably never knew what it was until my early twenties. Since my childhood I've had a chance to read some catechisms, and part of me wishes that I had gone through some sort of catechistic training when I was a kid.
A few years ago I ran across "A Baptist Catechism" by John Piper. I was excited when I found it, and read through it quickly, becoming all the more excited with ideas of how this would be a great thing to do with my kids. Piper acknowledges that catechisms are not something that are particularly Baptist, per se, but notes the value in doing training in such a manner. He did not write this catechism, but instead adapted it from an earlier Baptist Catechism, which itself was patterned after the famous Westminster Catechism.
And then just today I saw on the Desiring God site that DG has revised Piper's version of the catechism and reformatted it in a handy book form, available for free download. I quickly got myself a copy, and I suggest you do the same. It's not just something that can be done with kids, but an incredible amount of theology and doctrine can be learned by anyone who is willing to read through it.
Why use a catechism? Piper offers these five reasons:
1. We are required to "continue in the faith, stable and steadfast" (Colossians 1.23).
2. We are urged to "attain to the unity of the... knowledge of the Son of God...so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4.13-14).
3. There are many deceivers (1 John 2.26).
4. There are difficult doctrines "which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction (2 Peter 3.16).
5. Leaders must be raised up who can "give instruction in sound doctrine and also confute those who contradict it" (Titus 1.9)
In addition to these reasons, I think using a catechism in Christian education could be an incredibly beneficial thing, if for no other reason than that it could be used as a convenient springboard for parents to delve into spiritual topics with their children. There's another catechism resource that could be beneficial to parents in the form of a family devotional book that covers catechism questions.
That being said, I think there's a certain danger that comes along with learning a catechism, and it's this danger that has probably made catechism teaching somewhat unpopular in Baptist circles. The danger is this: we do not want a child's (or anyone) spiritual knowledge and formation to become a process that is rote. In other words, a kid can learn the answers to all the catechism questions and still be an unregenerate heathen. Simply knowing answers - even the right and true answers - to questions does not a genuine believer make. I think it almost goes without saying that this has to be communicated to anyone going through catechism training. It needs to be made clear that just because a person knows what to say and how to answer questions about theology and doctrine, it doesn't necessarily mean that anything of value has actually taken place in the heart. Catechisms must be used with care and discernment (which, when it comes down to it, is true of any and all methods of Christian education).
A crazy part of me wants to develop a curriculum for this "Baptist Catechism" and teach it to our kids at Riverview on Wednesday nights. We'll see where that goes. I do have a lot more free time these days being out of school.